Do Kids Need Back to School Eye Exams?

An ophthalmologist says yes and explains the benefits of yearly vision testing
boy getting eye exam

Whether your kids are back to school in the classroom, out of the classroom or both, you’re probably knee-deep in calendars and shifting priorities as the new school year begins. But don’t forget about checking in on their health — especially their eyes.

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Ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD, says it’s always a good idea to have your child’s eyesight checked at the start of each new school year.

“The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends an eye evaluation once before the age of 3, and every year (at least) to every two years until the age of 19,” Dr. Singh says.

And even if school has already started this year, it’s never too late to get them in for an appointment.

Why should I get my child’s eyes checked before school each year?

During adolescence, a child’s eyesight can change very quickly, and often. Then, another shift can happen during puberty, Dr. Singh says.

“Even preschoolers should see an ophthalmologist to make sure their eyes are aligned and focusing properly,” he says. “This is preventive and can address developing eye strain, poor eyesight down the road, and any disease that may develop.”

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When is it time to get my child’s eyes checked? 

Again, if you follow the AAO recommendations and get an appointment for your child every year, you’ll be going the best route for your child’s overall eye and vision care as they grow. Getting an exam before school begins will ensure they’re heading into the school year in their best overall health to learn. It can prevent headaches, fatigue and lack of focus while they’re in their learning environment.

Look for small signs

The key is to try to stay aware of small behavioral changes. Dr. Singh says that signs that your child might be having visual problems might become more apparent when shifting away from the computer screen, or when the child’s classroom seat or structure of their learning environment changes from one year to the next. 

Ask your kids if they’re comfortable in the new classroom or in front of the screen. Watch for blinking, squinting and tearing. Ask about any headaches or fatigue. Always of course share these symptoms with the ophthalmologist at your child’s appointment.

“Also, when they’re younger, try to pay attention to their reading development,” he says. Often poor reading can be an indication of vision problems, not necessarily learning disabilities. Your child may simply be having trouble focusing, versus not comprehending what they read properly at a specific recommended reading level. Again, as a parent, observation is the most important thing for positive steps in their growth and development.

If you notice crossed eyes, lazy eyes, or drooping of the eyelid, Dr. Singh recommends you should definitely have your child evaluated by their ophthalmologist. These may indicate other health problems, so you’ll want to rule those out with an exam, he emphasizes.

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Can kids wear contact lenses?

When it comes to contact lenses, Dr. Singh offers some caveats. He says high school kids can get them as long as they’re ready for the responsibility, but for the younger ones they come with too many risks.

“Unfortunately, contact lens use can lead to severe eye infections, especially if you sleep in your lenses. The chance of getting infection is almost 20 times higher by doing so,” he adds. Younger children may not have developed all of their best-practice habits quite yet. So for the younger kids it’s best to wait until they’re much older — in or after high school.

My child has prescription goggles or glasses 

Dr. Singh also says if your child plays sports and wears prescription glasses or goggles, it’s a good idea to have that prescription checked, too. 

When they’re active, there tends to be many points of focus around them in their field of vision so it’s important their eyes are processing the ever-changing environment in the right way (on a team field, for example) — for their own safety. Especially they’re using gear, balls or other equipment.

“Remember when it comes to your child’s eyes, being proactive is important, Dr. Singh says. “Their eyes should be taken care of as much as the rest of their body as they grow — because they own them for life.”

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